What's In A Name?

I will never speed-read a book again. After all the work that has gone into my debut title, I have a newfound appreciation for the hoops authors jump through just to get their stories out there. Things that I never even expected to resolve came across the table with gusto, and I am fortunate to have Ms. Saritza Hernandez as an agent to help navigate.

Most recently, we had a discussion about names for Ollie and his friends, as it had come up in some recent negotiations regarding OLLIE’s future. I’d shopped names for my characters long before I even got in front of a keyboard, pouring over census readings from the mid-20th century and baby name lists. I painstakingly went through last names, some of which were regional, some of which were street names, and some of which were just hijacked from bands I like. It made sense for Ollie’s last name to be Barret, because Syd Barret seemed like an apt role model for my rock ‘n’ roll junkie. His love interest was a more delicate issue, one which I thought I’d resolved well, but now has become something new to think about.

The point of giving your character a good name is to make him believable. One of the main things I did was measure out syllables and say first names along with the surname, checking for a perfect combination of sounds. Even the way the name sounds with other characters in the story have to work. I thought I’d done a pretty bang up job with Julian Fairclough, the broody rugger that has such a keen eye for Ollie. I’d wanted something a bit French-sounding, perhaps because of some image I’d rolled over in my head. Even Saritza liked it. I thought I’d nailed it — until we got into talks with a certain British press that has an interest in OLLIE.

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Our contact there brought up a good point about Julian. If he’s a working class Yorkshire bloke, what business does he have with such a posh-sounding name? A shock ran through me at once, because for all the effort I’d put into Julian’s name, our potential partner had a very good point. I loved Julian, loved his name — and then decided I loved him enough to chuck it out. I’d missed the most important, most obvious element in choosing a name. It was more than just handing out a title that sounded like an actual person (and not something engineered): the name had to tell the story you weren’t writing down. Yes, the backstory is touched on in the text, but it rings deeper when you have a name that matches. Julian’s father owns a buy/sell/repair electricals shop, one he fully expects Julian to take over one day. For a simple man to give his son a fancy name would be like putting on airs, elevating him to a stature that is unbecoming. So Julian had to change, which was easier to agree to than I thought. It’s just a name. People change their names to reflect their personalities all the time. Ask anyone who went from Katherine to Katie, Justin to Jessica.

I’m still rolling various names around. For the moment, I’m stuck on the name Liam Clarke, which is a little bit more fitting for a northern boy like Juli— Liam, rather. So say hello to him properly. After all, a rose by any other name will still smell as sweet.